Anxiety Recovery and Self Care

Anxiety recovery and self care. We hear about it all the time, but is self-care always essential oils and hot baths and candles and soothing? It certainly can by, but self-care is also giving yourself what you really need, which isn’t always what you want. Sometimes self-care means challenging yourself a bit to help break the avoidance cycle. Sometimes self-care means you choose to be uncomfortable now to feel better about yourself later.

Let’s take a closer look at self-care in a way that might not all that obvious.

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What Is Self Care?

Generally speaking, self care is portrayed in recovery and wellness circles as being all about resting, calming, soothing, and recharging.  Is that wrong?  Of course not! Sometimes that really is self care and you really do have to pay attention to that.  Recovery can be a demanding process so engaging in this kind of self care is has to be part of your plan.  No argument there.

But self care isn’t always about calming and soothing.  Self care is really about recognizing what you need, then giving yourself permission to have that. When you are stuck in a cycle of avoidance that impedes your recovery progress and has you swinging back and forth between avoidant relief and feeling bad about yourself for avoiding again, what do you need?

In those instances, self care can be about recognizing that what you WANT is the relief of avoidance but what you NEED is something to help you break that cycle. Deciding that you need another “mental health day” on the sofa feels great, but if you wind up judging yourself negatively six hours later for “wasting” another day, then breaking that cycle can be self care just as much as running for the essential oils or making that cup of hot tea that you love so much.

Self Care Isn’t Always About NOW

Often we look at self care as something that feeds us NOW.  We want to rest now.  We want to feel calm NOW.  We want to lower our anxiety levels NOW. But what if self care took into account the future?  When thinking about anxiety recovery and self care, start to consider what future you needs. What do you need that will support you and help you in an hour, six hours, or two days from now?  That matters too.

Self Care And Avoidance – A Sticky Situation

There is no mystery to the avoidance cycle. We have a negative experience, it makes us feel bad, then we get anxious in advance when worrying about repeating those experiences and we find ways to avoid that.  When you make an avoidant decision, the relief is palpable, isn’t it?  You almost instantly feel better knowing that you’re going to avoid those horrible triggers.

This can be a trap. Especially in the early days of recovery, if you give an anxious person the choice between facing fear and intentionally being uncomfortable, and taking another rest or mental health day, human nature says that we will pick the “rest day”. In reality, many anxious people will wrap avoidance in phrases like self care, mental health days, or “me days”.

Everyone is allowed to rest, and should.  Everyone needs recharge and mental health days that feel our bodies, minds, and souls.  No argument there! But for an anxious person in recovery, one of the tasks at hand is to confront the avoidance habit, recognize when self care is actually avoidance with lipstick on, and working to change this.

The Benefits Of The Other Self Care

You know, the self care where instead of listening to your fear and anxiety, you go toward your triggers and practice intentionally allowing discomfort. What’s the benefit in that self care?  How can that even be self care if you are going to be uncomfortable, afraid, or in a state of distress?

The benefit is that if you can take even a small step forward when all you want to do is hide, and if you are open to the lessons this experiences teaches you, you can wind up feeling great about yourself when its all done. You will have been afraid and uncomfortable, but when this works as designed you can wind up feeling accomplished, proud, and happy that you did something to advance your recovery even in some small way.

It Takes Time To Get There

Admittedly, this alternative challenging kind of self care is a hard sell for a person new to the concept of recovery as we see it here. Understandable.  A person that is currently focused on managing symptoms, regulating their nervous system, identifying and avoiding triggers, and trying desperately to calm down right away is going to struggle to accept this view of self care. That’s OK. Everyone gets to a new understanding and a new openness in their own time and in their own way.

If you cannot even imagine that accepting an exposure challenge and intentionally being afraid can be a form of self care, no worries. Nobody ever has to accept that if they do not feel it is right for them. Or it just might take you a while to start to change your view of the situation.  Be patient. Be kind to yourself (also self care!). Allow it to play itself out the way it has to. Avoid judging yourself harshly or comparing yourself to others that may be farther down the road than you are.


Links of Interest:

Anxiety 101 – Avoiding Avoidance

Doing Hard Things On Bad Days

Anxiety Recovery: The ACTIVE Process

Revisiting The Active Process Concept




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Podcast Intro/Outro Music: "Afterglow" by Ben Drake (With Permission)






Founder and host of The Anxious Truth podcast. Graduate student and therapist-in-training. Author and educator on the topic of anxiety disorders and anxiety recovery. Former anxious and depressed person.